Skip to content

Intentionally Focus Your Energy, Create More Success

May 12, 2016

Marshall Goldsmith is perhaps my favorite go-to thought leader for what I do. At the bottom of this article is an invitation to participate in a study he is conducting. Below are six engaging questions to use on a daily basis.

Engaging self-reflection questions can be useful in changing behavior.

To prove the validity of “engaging” questions and to compare them with “active” questions, Goldsmith initiated a study with participants in his leadership seminars. In the sessions, people answered six active questions every day for 10 working days. He “reverse engineered” the questions based on his experience and the literature on the factors that make employees feel engaged.

cropped-bigstockphoto_puzzle_pieces_27863-1638x1229.jpgHere are the six engaging questions he uses in his study and why he chose them.

1. Did I do my best to set clear goals today?

Employees who have clear goals report greater engagement than employees who don’t. If you don’t have clear goals and ask yourself, “Am I fully engaged?” the obvious follow-up is, “Engaged to do what?”

2. Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals today?

Harvard Business School’s Teresa Amabile in her scrupulous research has shown that employees who have a sense of “making progress” are more engaged than those who don’t. We don’t just need specific targets; we need to see ourselves nearing, not receding from, the target.

Anything less is frustrating and dispiriting. Imagine how you’d feel if you chose a goal and you got worse. How engaged would you be? Progress makes any of our accomplishments more meaningful.

3. Did I do my best to find meaning today?

I defer here to Viktor Frankl’s 1946 classic, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Frankl, an Auschwitz survivor, describes how the struggle to find meaning can protect us in even the most unimaginable environments. It’s up to us, not an outside agency, to provide meaning.

4. Did I do my best to be happy today?

Happiness goes hand in hand with meaning. When employees report that they’re happy but their work is not meaningful, they feel empty. On the other hand, when employees regard their work as meaningful but are not happy, they feel like martyrs.

As Daniel Gilbert shows in “Stumbling on Happiness,” we’re lousy at predicting what will make us happy. We think our source of happiness is “out there,” but we usually find it “in here” when we quit waiting for someone or something else to bring us joy and take responsibility for locating it ourselves.

5. Did I do my best to build positive relationships today?

Gallup once asked employees, “Do you have a best friend at work?” and found the answers directly related to engagement. By tipping the question from passive to active, we’re reminded to continue growing our positive relationships, instead of judging our existing relationships. One of the best ways to “have a best friend” is to “be a best friend.”

6. Did I do my best to be fully engaged today?

To increase our level of engagement, we must ask ourselves if we’re doing our best to be engaged. A runner is more likely to run faster in a race by running faster when they train and time themself.

Likewise, an employee will be more engaged at work if they consciously tries to be more engaged and rigorously measures her effort. It’s a self-fulfilling dynamic: the act of measuring our engagement elevates our commitment to being engaged and reminds us that we’re personally responsible for our own engagement.

My class voluntarily considered these questions. After ten days we followed up and asked, “How’d you do? Did you improve?” So far we have conducted 79 studies with 2,537 participants. The results have been incredibly positive.

An employee will be more engaged if they consciously try to be more engaged.

About 65 percent improved on at least four items; 89 percent improved on at least one item; 11 percent didn’t change on any items; and 0.4 percent got worse on at least one item.

Given people’s demonstrable reluctance to change at all, this study shows that active self-questioning can trigger a new way of engaging with our world.

If you would like to participate in Marshall Goldsmith’s “Six Question” research, please send an email that says “Six Question Study” to, and he will enroll you in an upcoming study.

Carl Nielson is founder and principal of The Nielson Group, formed in 1998 to help organizations create breakthrough performance. Today, he and his team of esteemed colleagues serve the human capital management needs of complex organizations in a wide range of diverse industries.

Carl’s expertise includes executive coaching, engaging and developing teams, job-talent matching, high-potential talent development, senior management team development, cross-functional employee engagement, new manager assimilation and goals-and-role alignment.

Prior to starting his own consulting and coaching firm, Carl served for 18+ years in management roles:

  • IHRIM, Inc. Executive Director/COO, non-profit association management
  • Haynes and Boone, Director, Human Resources, large regional law firm
  • Pepsico/Frito-Lay, Group Manager, Human Resources
  • Honeywell/Allied-Signal*/Union Texas Petroleum, Group HR Manager
    *Allied-Signal acquired Honeywell and took the name for the ongoing entity.

Carl brings in-depth experience successfully  implementing organizational change, managing acquisitions and divestitures, talent acquisition and performance management.

In addition, Carl found a passion for applying his corporate talent management knowledge to help students in high school and college with career coaching. He is the author of Career Coaching for Students, a state-of-the-art career exploration coaching program for high school and college students.

He holds a BS degree in Organization and Industrial Psychology and is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA), Certified Professional Motivators Analyst and Certified Professional TriMetrix® HD Analyst (CPTHDA). He is also a certified facilitator of The Coaching Clinic for managers and supervisors and is an IAC certified Relationship Coach.

Through his Success Discoveries brand, Carl has developed and offers several personal services and self-directed programs including Resume ReWrite™, Success Discoveries for Couples™, Developing Resiliency™, Career Coaching for Adults™, Success Discoveries for Me™ and Success Discoveries for Emotional Intelligence™.

No comments yet

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: